My Interview With Anne, a Child of Surrogacy (Part 2)

I’ve had a great response to Part 1 of my interview with Anne, a young woman born through surrogacy in 1993. The comments have been incredibly supportive, understanding and appreciative of her perspective. That’s been so gratifying to me, as a dad of two children born through surrogacy myself. Now that some of these kids are reaching adulthood and beyond, and now that surrogacy is becoming more and more common, it’s important to listen to the people who’ve lived through it.

I did only minor editing on Anne’s responses, because I wanted to make sure her view was as unfiltered as possible. She’s very well-adjusted and in touch with her origin story, as we call it here. Needless to say, though, there were things that were painful or difficult for her growing up. At the risk of stirring up the anti-surrogacy people, I’ve let Anne speak her mind. I’m hoping that doing so will help lots of parents like me understand our kids’ needs and do the best we can to help them grow up into people as awesome as Anne.

If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you can find it here. Now, here’s the conclusion of my interview.

IMG_0925-960x700How many of your friends today know your origin story? How long do you usually know someone before you tell them, or is it even an issue at all? Do you feel like you constantly have to “come out” about your nontraditional family?

 

Honestly, I can’t think of any of my friends that don’t know. I tell people pretty quickly. It’s just easier to explain family dynamics and my upbringing that way because it has shaped me a good bit. I do feel like I have to come out, though, and there are times when it’s scary to “come out” about it. I think with coworkers that’s the only hesitancy I have because it’s a weirdly personal thing to bring up. I’ve only been in the “real world” for about a year but, from what I hear, talking about your dad’s sperm isn’t something that should be brought up often.

I spoke with my mom some about this, and she said that she’s never met someone who hasn’t thought it was cool/interesting/etc. and that she doesn’t plan on seeking those people out. I also think there’s an internal radar within each of us that knows when it’s safe to say certain things. In terms of coming out in my mind, it’s a bigger deal for me to tell someone I’m bisexual than it is for me to talk about my surrogacy, if that gives any perspective.

 

Anne and her parents

Anne and her parents

Do you look like your mom? What do you say if someone tells you that you look just like her (when you know you don’t actually share her DNA)? Or what if they say you look nothing like her?

Other than the blond hair, I don’t really. I’m going to have to use my mom’s response to the “you look just like her” or “I can see where she got her gorgeous hair”… She would just say something like “Yup, she definitely got it from her mom!” (emphasizing mom) and then wink at me. In terms of looking nothing like her, she’s a bit older that most moms but it’s never come up that I can remember. I also think I was quick to tell people throughout my life if I could so if someone said something about looking like my mom I would just tell them and it wouldn’t come up again. I also was and am in many ways still am a huge tomboy so it’s hard to know what someone looks like in an oversized hoodie and jeans to begin with. Combine all of this with her being 48 years older than me and I was more likely to have someone ask me if that was my grandmother than anything else.

 

What about the fact that your surrogate was paid to carry you? I used to worry that my kids would think they were the product of a business transaction rather than an act of love. Did you ever feel that way?

 

This is actually a question I get a good bit early into the conversation about my “origin story”. In college at one point, I sat down with a guy who was writing a paper on surrogacy. The question of cost came up, and I called my parents on the spot asking them how much they paid. I don’t even remember how much the ballpark estimate was, which is a testament to how much I don’t really think about it.

In fact, the reason my birth mom had me had to do with her having an abortion previously. She wanted a way to give back after doing so and decided to be a surrogate. For a while, I thought that maybe I was just a redo after a mistake. That thought process quickly dissipates though when you actually break down the facts of how much time goes into being a surrogate mother. It’s not just a transaction, especially when I hear how fond my parents are of my birth mom and vice versa.

The money aspect never really bothered me too much. I think one of the harder parts of being a surrogate though has to do with the fact that I have really no reason to be upset at my birth mom or to not know her. It’s almost the opposite reaction to the money question: “Wow, someone did this for x dollars?”. In many ways, my birth mom did an incredible thing for my parents and gave up a huge chunk of four years of her life basically to do so. If anything, the money aspect is secondary but the “what kind of awesome person would do this?!” comes to mind.

 

OK, every teenager goes through a phase when they’ll say whatever they can to hurt their parents’ feelings. Did you ever, in a fit of anger, say, “You’re not my real mom!” or, as Scott Evil says in Austin Powers, “I wish I was never artificially created in a lab!”? And if so, how did your parents handle it? I’m just trying to get a sense of what I’m in for with my kids when they get older, so I can start thinking of some snappy comebacks.

I never said it as a teenager but I do remember saying it as a very very very young child. I was upset about something and said “I want my real mom”. I don’t really remember what happened exactly but I do know my mom just hugged me anyway and asked if it was okay if she was there for me. I think the fact of the matter is that we (my mom and I) both are very aware we aren’t related. Saying “You aren’t my real mom” doesn’t take away from the fact that she helped me with homework assignments, changed my diaper, helped me apply to college, let me practice the same speech a thousand times to her, checked my papers for mistakes, etc. If I were you, I would say something like “I know I’m not but I am someone who loves you dearly and am doing everything I can to support you”.

I apologize if this is like one of those job interview questions where they try to throw a curveball at you, but what do you feel has been the best part of being a child of surrogacy? Is there anything it’s given you that you wouldn’t have had otherwise?

I think it has made me incredibly self aware and curious about others. I’m not sure if I was just born that way or if it’s a result, but I definitely think just the complexity of my family has made me that way. Beyond that, I think having a broader definition of family has allowed me to have deeper relationships than most with my parents (with time) and friends. I’ve also learned purely as a result of my being here that there is an incredibly good and beautiful side to humanity. It’s taught me the importance of giving back and of doing things for others that they may not be able to do for themselves. Yes, me being born in an economic sense is nothing more than a transaction. The same is true from a legal standpoint: I’m a result of a legal contract. However, me being born in the anthropological sense shows an incredibly fascinating and wonderful next step for humans. Me being born in a sociological sense shows change in a variety of institutions (medical, legal, etc.), social opinion, and simply how people interact. I can ramble about this for a while but you get the point. Come to think of it, this may explain why I stuck to subjects like anthropology and sociology more than economics over the years :) It’s a more human explanation for a human situation.

I think being a surrogate baby has simply given me a perspective on the world that very few have. It’s given me a million reasons to understand myself better and to view things from a variety of perspectives (my parents, my technically half brother, my birthmom, my birthmom’s kids, etc.). It also let me blur the lines of family and let more people in as a result. I’m also very comfortable with the “messiness” of life and I think that’s been a huge asset for me.

littlegirlanne2Looking back, is there anything you wish your parents had handled differently in how they raised you? Anything having to do with when or how they discussed your origin story or the level of contact you had with your surrogate?

 

I wish my parents had acknowledged the differences between my brother and me a bit more. This may sound odd but I think they were so focused on trying to make sure we were treated equally that I sometimes didn’t get the help I needed. They tried to make things SO normal that there wasn’t a ton of time to talk about how I was different. I needed structured time to have a conversation about it whereas I think they waited for me to just bring it up. I was a very emotional kid and still am that way as an adult whereas my brother is extremely logical and quite void of intense emotions almost. While I think they wanted to make sure I had a normal existence and didn’t have to think/talk about my birth mom, I think I needed to more than we did. The one off remarks about her and, as you say, my origin story were reassuring but I never felt I had a complete understanding and always felt like I had to be the one to bring it up. I told them this about two years ago but I wish they had just asked me from time to time “How do you feel about being a surrogate baby? Do you like your relationship with your birthmom? Do you tell your friends about this?”. I just wish we had a bit of a deeper and more thorough dialogue beyond “She’s a great person! You look just like her!”.

Otherwise, I have zero complaints. My mom has handled everything with complete grace and they are ALWAYS open to talking about it honestly even if I have to start the conversations. I think for them the hard part of having kids was the not being able to have them. As a result, I don’t think they understand the perspective of it being hard for me. I don’t think it ever really crossed their mind which has been a positive in that it has made me secure about my family.

What’s the weirdest or most offensive thing anyone’s ever said to you about surrogacy and/or your origin story?

Before visiting my birth mom in college there was talk of my friend and I possibly staying with her to save money. My friend said something to the effect of “you don’t know her – she could be crazy. I don’t know if this is smart” and it really threw me for a loop. I was offended because it was technically my genetic mom and it made me feel like she thought I was crazy. I also was hurt because she was right – I don’t know her and I don’t know what she is like. I ended up calling my dad in a panic not knowing what to do or how to process it. He basically calmed me down and we ended the conversation laughing about the whole thing. Still though, it left me feeling pretty uneasy and weird for obvious reasons. Also, not the best thing to say to someone when they are just meeting their birth mom for the second time (if the first time even counted).

Would you ever consider being a surrogate yourself, and if so, under what circumstances? (For a friend/sibling? Traditional/gestational? “Hell to the no!”?)

I have very little desire to have kids right now so this is hard for me to answer. The idea of having a baby just reminds me of the Alien vs. Predator movie scene where the alien busts out of that person’s chest. Kidding aside, I’m reading a book right not called Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon that dives into the parent – child relationship in terms of how our identities are developed. I highly recommend reading it purely because it breaks apart the importance of correctly identifying illness (something that can be fixed) vs identity (something that needs be accepted) as well as offering a solid study into vertical (genetic/family) vs horizontal (social) identities. I want to study this more, meet more surrogates, meet more surrogate babies, and understand the parent-child relationships a bit better before diving into having kids of my own or kids for other people.

2014-03-15_1394904153When my husband and I first met with our surrogacy agency, they told us we were “pioneers”, but your parents really earned that term much more than we did, given that you were born in 1993. Is there any advice you’d have for people considering surrogacy today?

I would say the best advice is to take a child development class and to meet other people who have gone through it. I took a child development class as part of my college education and, wow, everyone considering to be parents needs to take one (seriously). Beyond that, I would think long and hard about two questions:

1. Do you want to tell your child? Are you willing to deal with the consequences of telling them or not telling them?

2. What do you want your relationship and your child’s relationship to be like with the birthmom?  The lack of research around surrogates in this case is what is mostly causing the problem. It’s a natural reaction to fear something you don’t understand, don’t hear about, and, for most people, don’t have a need for. It’s a different story when you are struggling with fertility issues. It’s ironic to me that they would be against surrogacy when it’s basically a hyper planned pregnancy with the sole goal of delivering a baby to two parents who really want the child.

My two cents: tell your kids and have an open relationship with the birthmom.

Are you aware of the anti-surrogacy movement? There are some people who don’t think surrogacy should be legal, because it exploits women and/or because it’s unfair to the kids who result from it. How would you respond to those people?

I am aware of the anti-surrogacy movement. I can see why it can be thought of that way from people who may not really understand how surrogacy is being used in the real world. The screening in place for surrogate mothers is intense, at least in the United States. I think that should be the case everywhere if it’s not already (I can’t speak with authority on that). Moreover, I think the screening for parents who want to use surrogacy should be just as intense and rigorous, which I currently think it is. My parents have spoken to me of strict standards even back at the very beginning of this so I can’t imagine they have fallen to the wayside now. By having these standards in place, I think you actually prevent many of the fears anti-surrogacy people have as you can weed out those who are doing it for the wrong reasons, which could potentially result in the exploitation of women and a level of unfairness to the kids. However, I think if you actually surveyed surrogates and surrogate babies, you would find a much different story.

For the last question, I want you to speak directly to my kids. Knowing that they were also conceived through surrogacy, what would you want to say to them?

Gah. I know there may be times when your identity feels pulled in a million directions and you’re not sure who you got your laugh or nose from but know that deep down inside you are so incredibly loved. Know that family goes much farther and deeper beyond blood and genetics. Know that it’s okay to talk about surrogacy and that you should never be ashamed of it. Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions but recognize that everyone involved in your life is going through this for the first time too (give them and yourself a break). You can never have too many people who love you and want you to be here – you, like me, have one extra person from the very beginning loving you. See your origin story as something that gives you insight into yourself and those around you. Question yourself deeply – you have a rare perspective on the world. Talk to others – often the fears or concerns you might have about being a surrogate baby can come from not having a greater perspective about how you get here in the first place. Ultimately though, be kind – everyone has their own origin story in their own way and use yours to connect rather than to divide.

Is there anything else you want to add? If not, feel free to tell me how wonderful my questions were, because that would be a super ego boost for me.

I think for me I’m at a place now where I more so just want to understand the surrogate’s perspective. In many ways, the surrogate baby is “set up” to seek the birth mom whereas the birth mom is “set up” to let go of the child she gave birth to for someone else. That’s an oversimplification of course but I think I’m realizing after so many years I think I now have the emotional energy and confidence to dive into building a relationship with her rather than theorizing about how she might feel. You can really drive yourself nuts if you want to trying to understand surrogacy and I’ve found that simplifying it to the core of it being an act of altruism in many ways helps bring me peace.

Thanks!

One last ramble… being a surrogate baby is basically like half being adopted and half being a stepchild without any drama of a divorce. It leaves you in a weird place because you have some angst of “why did my mom give me up” but not nearly to the extent that you do if you were adopted. The angst that is there as a result often goes away when you release how selfless it was to do. However, you do feel a bit like a stepchild in that you aren’t fully related to one of your parents (at least for my kind of surrogacy). BUT you were so wanted by this parent that they planned for years to have you! As a result, it’s this weird mix of more common social norms in our society that leaves you feeling both like you have people who “get it” yet still a bit alone. I’ve balanced it by realizing as we all do that there will be very few if any people who totally get your story. There are some friends who I can talk to about my sexual identity but who may not understand the surrogacy/family side and vice versa. Fortunately, I have a variety of people who I can turn to for different things and, ultimately, as a collective group of people I have never felt alone in this.

I think my favorite part of what Anne said is this: “Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions but recognize that everyone involved in your life is going through this for the first time too (give them and yourself a break).” That’s such an incredibly empathetic, self-aware statement, and we’re definitely still in a world where that is true for most families undergoing surrogacy.

I’d like to point out, for the sake of clarity, that my kids were created through a different type of surrogacy than Anne was. Her parents underwent what’s commonly called “traditional surrogacy”, in which the surrogate carrier uses her own egg but does not retain custody of the child. (Thus, Anne’s use of the term “birth mom,” which we don’t use in our family.) Traditional surrogacy has become less common with the advances in IVF technology since the 90’s, although some intended parents still choose that route. My husband and I underwent “gestational surrogacy,” which is more common today. In gestational surrogacy, embryos are created in vitro using a donor’s eggs, and they’re then transfered to a surrogate who has no genetic link to the child.

Thanks again to Anne for her openness and honesty in responding to my incredibly direct and invasive questions. She is an inspiration to me, and I’m sure she will be to my kids as they get older. If you’d like to get to know Anne even better, you should follow her on Twitter @annezazu

Meet Anne: A Slap-In-The-Face Interview With a Child of Surrogacy

Last month, I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at the first ever WordPress-sponsored Press Publish conference in Portland, Oregon. While I was there, I met tons of awesome people, but the one who probably sticks out the most to me was a young woman named Anne who spoke to me after my presentation. She wanted me to know that she was born through surrogacy herself. She was curious to meet my kids, because she’d never met anyone else who was born through surrogacy.

Anne

Anne

She was a wonderful person — smart, polite, down-to-Earth, and we had a very nice chat. I promised to put her in touch with some people who might be able to help her find other people her age born through surrogacy, and she gave me her card.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about her, because I often wonder how my kids will feel about their birth story as they get older. Will they be confused? Alienated? Bored to tears? Anne was so cool about where she came from, so I emailed and asked if I could interview her for this site.

Now, in honor of Surrogate and Egg Donor Day (a/k/a Other’s Day), which my family celebrates every year on the day before Mother’s Day, here are her thoughtful, honest, eye-opening responses.

Before I start, I want to say that Anne gave me permission to be totally blunt and intrusive and ask the kind of questions that would normally earn me a slap in the face. In return, I gave her permission to respond “You horrible bastard!” to any question that was particularly rude, and then just move on. I would not normally be this direct when talking to someone with a nontraditional birth story, nor would I recommend you be. But if you want to know how they might answer if you ever were so bold, here you go.

In order to avoid any confusion, I also want to point out that when I refer to Anne’s “mom” or “mother” in these questions, I mean the woman who raised her. If I’m talking about her surrogate, I’ll use the term “surrogate”.

* * *

Hi Anne! First of all, can you tell me about your family and about how you were conceived? It was through traditional surrogacy, right, meaning the surrogate used her own egg, along with your father’s sperm?

Yes, I am a result of a traditional surrogacy! My mom dealt with fertility issues, which led them to consider surrogacy. Through the Center for Surrogate Parenting, they met my birth mom. The first attempt ended in a miscarriage, and after that, it took them almost 4 years to have me.

 

Before my second question, I want to apologize for my first question, because no one should ever have to hear, say or think about a phrase like “your father’s sperm”. Most of us have the luxury of never having to ponder the specifics of how our parents created us — whether it was on their honeymoon, there was a broken condom or they were crazy drunk and our dad actually thought he was hooking up with our mom’s identical twin sister or something. I don’t know those things about myself, and I don’t want to. Do you ever get annoyed that people are so curious about the specifics of your birth story, or that you have to talk about it more than most people do?

Hahah oh my gosh. In some ways, I’m lucky my birth was SO planned. They REALLY wanted me, so much so that they went through this intense process to have me. Honestly, I get more annoyed with people who try to pretend like I didn’t just say anything about surrogacy when I mention it than those who see me as an interesting biology and social experiment. “That’s nice – what are you doing this weekend” feels a lot worse than “Wait – how long have you known?!”.

If I don’t want to talk about it I don’t have to. Either way, most of the time when I do bring it up or when family is brought up an interesting conversation results, which is always fun.

 

What kind of communication do you have with your surrogate, and what do you call her? Is she your “surrogate mother”, or do you avoid the “m” word, like we do in our family?

I call her by her first name actually. I had to take a second to think about that. If I’m describing her to other people, I’ll say birth mom like I am now. Otherwise though, I had major speech problems until I was about 9 and surrogate mother would have come out like “I haff a shuwoogathe mothwa” which sounds like it could be a disease.

I didn’t have much communication with her growing up. Looking back, that’s something I wish I had more of but she was living her life, most likely trying to give my parents distance to raise me. I remember getting cards on Christmas and for my birthday every once in a while.

When I was 12, I met her for the first time. Apparently, organizations associated with surrogacy think 12 is a good age. Real quick: think back to when you were 12 and imagine meeting your parent for the first time?! It threw me for a loop for sure. I think 12 was just too awkward and emotional of an age for that to happen. We only went out to dinner and my parents were there the entire time. I don’t remember saying much because what do you have to say when you’re 12?

After that, I remember reaching a point in my freshman or sophomore year where I hacked into my dad’s email looking for her email address. This was the beginning of social media and all that jazz so I was determined to see if I could find her. I found her email address, then found her on Facebook. Long story short, we became Facebook friends my junior year and basically liked each other’s posts for a while.

Midway through college, I realized I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if something happened to my birth mom and I hadn’t met her as an adult. I decided to make the trip my junior year to visit her. I dragged one of my close friends along for the road trip and am so happy I did, as I definitely would’ve been too nervous to drive to dinner by myself. We met up with her and her husband and had dinner. Since then we’ve mostly kept up very randomly via texting but I’m planning on going to see her sometime in the next year again. My relationship with her is definitely something I want to develop as I do think I’m lucky to have such an open relationship with her.

wholefamily

Anne’s family

When did your parents first tell you that you were conceived through surrogacy, and what was your initial reaction? Did you feel like a weirdo, some kind of superkid or somewhere in between?

This is a hard question to answer, because I can’t think of a time when I didn’t know. My family always talked about it, never in a way of “You’re different” but more of a “We’re so lucky to have you!”

In terms of how I felt, there were definitely times I felt a bit different. It was more centered on me not knowing my biological mom. I think it made me wonder if I was missing anything. I know that I felt a bit out of place within my family at times. I do remember daydreaming about meeting my birth mom and what I would say to her or what would happen if we didn’t get along. I think more than anything I just wondered if she was like me. I wrote about it a bit on an old private blog. Here are some excerpts:

“my half sister messaged me a bit ago about wanting to get together and go on vacation or at least meet up. isnt that strange? isnt that lovely? i love it. every bit of it. it’s weird that there is someone genetically related to me living their own life doing their own thing and i am only following from a distance on facebook. same with [my birth mom]. will i ever know her? know what her face looks like when shes mad or happy? know what her favorite song is. favorite candy. favorite meal. what time she goes to bed. how she cuts a steak. what her laugh sounds like. the little things.” – December 31, 2012

“i saw my birth mom almost two weeks ago. i am at work and can’t write too much about it but let’s just say that the connection was made. the synapse was complete. i can now think about my birth mom and there is a mental endpoint. there are less questions. there is more peace. it was amazing to see myself in her. to sit across from her and feel so calm. i wasnt worried about what i was saying or doing. i just was being. it was a lot less scary than i thought it would be and a lot more natural.” -November 5, 2013

Based on these two you can see a glimpse of how I felt before and how I feel now. When I think about her now there isn’t this nagging feeling that I need to see her. There’s a much broader sense of calm and peace about it.

Growing up, how many of your friends knew about your unique birth story? (Just to make you feel more like a superhero, we’ll call it your “origin story”.) Did other kids ever tease you about your family?

I don’t ever recall being teased but I do remember outing myself, so to speak, about being a surrogate baby when a friend of mine who was adopted was being picked on. I think the other kids were so shocked by what I said they just didn’t pick on her again! I have some memories in 1st – 5th grade of telling people, but it was always just passed over. My mom told me recently that she had some parents come up to her asking for the story so they could explain it a bit better to their kids. After 6th or 7th grade, I remember telling my close friends more often. It was one of those “secrets” that came out after a certain period of time. In college, I would say it casually if there were moments it came up in conversation about family life, etc. I mentioned it to a Lyft driver the other day after making a comment about being born where he was from but only living there for a week. If the opportunity comes up, I’ll say something but it’s definitely not a natural thing you throw into conversation.

 

Did you feel different from your friends with more traditional families, and did you ever wish you could just have a “normal” family like everyone else?

I do have some really funny memories from a doctor’s visit when I was probably 6 where I said some really insane stuff about not letting my mom’s blood go inside my body because we aren’t related. I definitely had moments where I felt like my brother was closer to my mom. My dad and I like the same candy, wake up early in the morning, have similar mannerisms, etc. I felt like I could feel the biological connection more than I could with my mom. How can you prove that? If I didn’t know I was a surrogate baby, would I even notice anything? I firmly believe I wouldn’t.

At some point when I was growing up, though, I realized that having blurred lines about what exactly family is allowed me to develop closer relationships with people. To explain a bit further, by expanding my definition of family, I was able to let more people in. I think this way of viewing things helped me not worry as much about what a “normal” family is. Plus, the second you really talk to anyone about family, you realize there is no normal :)

 

Anne and her brother

Anne and her brother

Tell me a bit about your brother. While your parents were struggling to conceive with the surrogate, they actually conceived naturally, and your brother was born. Is that right?

That’s correct! My brother was basically a miracle baby. My mom had stopped fertility treatments when she found out she was pregnant with him!

 

So if your parents’ goal was to have a baby, why did they continue to pursue surrogacy after they had a biological child of their own? I think that’s something that might confuse some people.

Simply put, they wanted two kids :) I think just having one kid would have been a miracle enough, but the chance to have two… they couldn’t pass it up. I think at that point they were already heavily invested in the idea of surrogacy and decided to go for it.

 

Did you ever feel different from your brother, like he had some connection to your mom that you lacked? Did you ever feel like your parents treated you differently? And be honest, because every kid in history who has siblings has at one point or another said, “You like him better than me!

I am about as different from my brother as I can be. We butt heads, as I seem to have taken all the emotions between the two of us. I would say despite my parents’ best efforts, we were treated differently. I think having different genetics meant I needed to be treated differently. I’m much more emotional than my brother and needed different responses in certain situations. I spoke to my parents about this a couple of years ago and they said they just never thought of it that way but can see how they could have done things differently.

When you think about everything your parents went through to have you, do you ever wonder, “Why didn’t they just adopt?” Is that something other people have asked? (My husband and I get that sometimes when we mention we had a surrogate.)

For some reason, I think my parents would have had a harder time adopting than having a surrogate. I’m 22 and my mom just turned 70 about a week ago. My dad is 60.

I just called my mom and asked. Here’s a summary of her response:

“We tried everything. We started with adoption and it’s not that easy when you’re our age. Because at this day and age, birthmothers have a big say and I was probably older than most of their moms. The short answer is we tried, and when we had the funds to go for surrogacy we jumped for it. Having the possibility of surrogacy was a more attractive option because you would have more of a likelihood that you would have a baby and there would be a genetic connection. It was an evolution – it wasn’t an either/or.”

As a backstory, The generation gap is something that did cause issues but, now that I’m older and wiser myself, I’m SO happy to have had older parents as there was a maturity that I think made this entire process easier. In terms of other people asking about adoption, I’ve actually never been asked that!

Coming up in part two, I’ll ask Anne about how she deals with being a child of surrogacy now that she’s grown up. Does it still come up? Would she consider being a surrogate herself? What would she say to kids like mine who were also born through surrogacy, and to people who don’t think surrogacy should be legal?

Check back for the second part of my interview or subscribe to my blog to get it emailed to you as soon as it becomes available. And Happy Surrogate and Egg Donor Day!

It’s Time to End “Traditional Gay Marriage”

normal peopleOne of the nuttier arguments against same-sex marriage — and there’s a hotly contested battle for that distinction — is that gay people already have the right to marry. If they want to, they can marry someone of the opposite sex, just like anyone else.

Of course, that’s exactly what gay people have been doing since marriage was invented. Marriage is such an attractive institution that many, if not most, LGBTQ people throughout history have entered into it the only way they’ve legally been allowed: by marrying someone of the opposite sex. Those marriages then typically involve one gay person and one straight person.

Let’s call this “traditional gay marriage”.

So what kind of unions does traditional gay marriage create? Usually, ones built on a foundation of lies, where one partner believes the other is totally committed to them, and the other is just looking for some sort of societal approval they’d never get by being true to themselves.

It stands to reason that people in traditional gay marriages are more likely to cheat, because neither of them is likely to be sexually satisfied within the marriage. Even if everyone involved is faithful, they’re bound to get frustrated. The straight spouse may someday realize he or she deserves better, or the gay spouse may someday come out of the closet, bringing the marriage to an abrupt and painful end.

Gay marriage foes claim to be very concerned with children, but what kind of family does traditional gay marriage provide for kids? They’ll never really know who one of their parents truly is, and they’ll have to live with the tension between two people who really weren’t a match made in Heaven. That could manifest as anything from chilly passive-aggressiveness to physical and emotional abuse. How will they figure out what love is, or what they should be looking for in a mate, when the role models in their own home are so dysfunctional?

There’s no way to know how many straight marriages have been ruined by the legalization of same-sex marriage, though most people would put the estimate around 0. Traditional gay marriage, on the other hand, has led to countless divorces, scandals, broken homes and surely therapy bills totaling higher than the national debt.

If you still think traditional gay marriage is a good idea, ask yourself if you’d wish it on your own son or daughter. Would you want your daughter marrying a closeted gay man, or your son to shack up with a woman who’s always wishing he could be someone else? Because that’s the world you’re advocating when you want to put an end to same-sex marriage. Plenty of those gay people are still going to get married, and they might just marry you or someone you care about.

Now look at the alternative. When gay marriage is legal, fewer of those fraudulent marriages will exist. LGBTQ people will see that they don’t have to stay in the closet and deceive someone they care about in order to reap the benefits of marriage. They’ll know that they can marry the person they love and society will treat them just the same as any other couple. They’ll even be able to have kids, like my husband and I and so many other gay couples do, if that’s something they’re interested in. There will be no more incentive for traditional gay marriage, and people will have less reason to worry that their spouse is more interested in convenience than mutual affection.

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments on legalizing same-sex marriage today, and I hope they’ll hear something like this, because the world before legalized gay marriage was never as perfect as the gay marriage opponents would make it seem.

To them, I say this: If you’re really worried about gay people weakening the sacred institution of marriage, stop telling them to marry straight people.

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If you like this and you agree that it’s time to end traditional gay marriage, I hope you’ll share it using the buttons below, especially if you happen to know Justice Kennedy or Roberts.

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Hey, I have a book!

How a Hoodie Got Me Talking to My 5-Year-Olds About Gay Rights

This is a picture of my 5-year-old son Bennett wearing his favorite hoodie. It was a gift somebody bought for him, so I’m not sure where it came from, but it does appear to be an officially licensed product.

Minions hoodie, we're here, we're yellow, get used to it

He loves this hoodie because it has the Minions on it, of course, and because of that, he doesn’t really care what the words say. If it said, “I love naps”, he would still wear it. Or “Feed the boy wearing this shirt broccoli”. Yup, he’d put that on, too, because it’s the Minions, and anything associated with them must automatically be cool.

But it doesn’t say those things. It says, “We’re here, we’re yellow, get used to it.” My 5-year-old son wears a shirt that features a rewriting of a chant used by so-called radical gay rights activists in the early 1990’s. “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” In 2015, somebody thought the slogan was a) well-known enough and b) child-friendly enough to use on an article of children’s clothing.

Just think about that.

Queer Nation, the group that originated the slogan, was formed in 1990 in New York City. They were tired of gay bashings and of people ignoring AIDS because they thought it only affected some deviant subculture. There were no “straight allies” back then, no TV news coverage for gay rights. In those days, you could be a loveable mainstream person in the public eye and openly say things like, “Those people got that disease as a punishment from God.” Say that, and you’d still have a career. But if you said, simply, “I’m gay,” you were finished.

The people in Queer Nation weren’t just saying it, they were shouting it, and they were letting you know the problem was yours, not theirs.

In 1990, I was a college student in New York City, and I remember what it was like for battalions of angry gay men to march through the streets yelling, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” It scared the shit out of people.

Of course, my kid doesn’t know his shirt features an (admittedly not very clever) play on a confrontational gay chant. He just likes the colorful corporate property depicted in the graphic.

Last night, my daughter was reading the words on his shirt, over and over, and cracking herself up. “We’re here, we’re yellow, get used to it!” She thought it was hilarious, but I knew she didn’t really get the joke. And it’s not like I could explain it to her.

Could I?

Then I thought about when one of their African-American friends came over for a playdate. I was going to turn the TV on for them, when this sweet little preschool-age girl informed me that she wasn’t allowed to watch a certain network because they don’t have any African-American characters on it. My kids didn’t know what she was talking about, so I explained it to them. “It just doesn’t seem fair that there are so many different kinds of people in the world, but they don’t always get shown on TV. We know lots of people who look different from us. Don’t you think there should be TV characters who look like them?” I kind of loved that this girl’s mom was so frank with her about racism even at her age, and that, as a result, my kids got a lesson in it, too.

So why not gay rights?

We’re gay dads, after all. It’s not like this issue isn’t going to come up at some point. I’ve resisted discussing homophobia with my kids for a while because, among other things, I didn’t think they would believe me. We really don’t get treated badly because our family is non-traditional, at least not that I think my kids would have noticed. Sure, sometimes, people are confused by our family. Kids tell them that two men can’t get married, and even grown-ups sometimes think my children are lying when they say they don’t have a mom. But as far as I know, they’ve never actually witnessed homophobia. Everyone we know and deal with regularly treats us just like every other family.

I also thought about something else my daughter had said at dinner. “A boy in my class today did this with his hand.” She held up her middle finger. Some kid in her kindergarten class had apparently flipped the teacher off. We had a talk about how that wasn’t a nice gesture to make, something she had already figured out when the boy got sent to the principal’s office. So my kid now knew how to flip the bird… and I was worried about her hearing the word “queer”?

Then I realized this didn’t need to be some big angry rant about The Man keeping us down. It could just be a history lesson. It’s a topic that’s all over TV. Why shouldn’t my children hear about it from their own parents?

“Do you know what Bennett’s shirt means?” I asked them at dinner. They shook their heads. “You know how some men are like me and Daddy and they fall in love with other men? And some women fall in love with other women? Well, there’s a word for that, ‘gay’. And some people don’t like that. They don’t think people should be gay. They think men should only marry women and women should only marry men. So they made up a mean word so they could be mean to people like us, and that word was ‘queer’. Well, a long time ago, some gay people got tired of people being mean to them, so they made up a chant that went, ‘We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!’ It was like saying, ‘If you want to call us names, go ahead, but we are who we are, and we’re not going to let you be mean to us anymore.'”

I think that’s about as far as I got before they started asking what was for dessert. I felt better, though, because, if nothing else, I had shared something truly amazing with my kids. In just 25 years, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” has gone from a defiant middle finger to the mainstream to something alluded to on a sweatshirt that a 5-year-old boy (a boy with two dads, no less) wears to kindergarten.

I can’t help thinking how many of the original Queer Nation activists didn’t survive the AIDS epidemic. They weren’t here for gay marriage, gay sitcoms and the Supreme Court striking down sodomy laws, for a time when an openly gay man can host the Oscars and an openly lesbian woman can have a beloved daytime talk show. When you can finally say “I’m gay” and still have a career, but if you say, “I wouldn’t go to my friend’s gay wedding,” then everyone thinks you’re a major weenieburger.

If I could show those fallen heroes one thing to illustrate how far we’ve come, though, it wouldn’t be any of those things.

It would be this picture, of my son in his favorite hoodie.

Minions hoodie, we're here, we're yellow, get used to it

“Holy shit,” I imagine they’d reply. “They got used to it.”

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Do you like the things that I say and the way that I say them? Did you know you can read a lot more from me in my book “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad”? Do you have any idea how happy it would make me if you did?

And if you just like this post and have no interest whatsoever in anything else I’ve ever written, then why not share this post with all your social media friends by clicking on the share buttons below? Then, when they all start commenting with things like, “I love this!”, you can say, “Oh yeah, he wrote a book, too. I just ordered it.” And then you can order it. I won’t tell.

Refuseservice1

A Modest Proposal For Religious Freedom Laws

Refuseservice1

In 1994, I moved to Los Angeles to attend film school, and I quickly discovered a local hangout called Barney’s Beanery. It was one of those places that hipsters would call a “dive”, which meant the décor was fashioned to look old and tacky but there weren’t actually any creepy drunks lingering around to bring everyone down. My friends and I used to hang out there and talk about movies, because we heard Shane Black went there to write, and because the menu was full of the kind of deep-fried pub food that we were too young to realize we shouldn’t be eating so much of.

Then one day, the one openly gay guy in my MFA program (I wasn’t yet brave enough to come out myself) told me why he never joined us when we went there.

“The owners are homophobes,” he said.

“No!” I insisted. “That’s impossible.”

He shook his head. “I can’t believe you haven’t heard this. There used to be a sign over the bar that said ‘Faggots Stay Out’.”

I think at this point I probably laughed, guffawed even. The idea was so absurd, not only because it seemed like the kind of blatant Jim Crow bigotry America had supposedly done away with long ago, but because Barney’s Beanery was in the middle of the gayest part of town. Walk a couple of blocks in either direction from Barney’s and you’d undoubtedly find yourself face-to-jock strap with a go-go boy dancing on a bar.

“You have to be kidding,” I said. “It’s in West Hollywood.”

“Right,” he replied. “And have you ever noticed any gay people in there?”

It was my “Soylent Green is people” moment (sorry for the spoiler if you haven’t seen “Soylent Green”). He was right. Barney’s Beanery was situated among the gayest gay bars in Gaytown, yet it was full of the straightest frat boys you’d ever seen.

Thanks to the internet, I now have photographic proof that Barney’s did have that sign, up until the city forced them to take it down in 1985. (Not surprisingly, the word “faggots” wasn’t even spelled correctly.)

Photo republished from Frontiers Magazine

Photo republished from Frontiers Magazine

When my friend told me about Barney’s no fags policy, I felt sick. I wanted to retroactively barf up every onion ring I’d ever eaten and every drop of cheap beer I’d ever drunk there on their front steps. One thing was for sure. I was never setting foot in Barney’s again.

Now, thanks to the Indiana state legislature and its governor, Mike Pence, millions of people in a Midwest state have the right to do just what Barney’s did. Sure, they’re not asking to exercise that right quite as crudely, but then again, maybe that’s the problem.

I’m not going to argue the merits of this law. If you want to read someone doing that much better than I can, check out Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s eloquent and thorough smackdown of a similar law in Colorado in Romer v. Evans, from 1996. Laws like this are nothing new. They spring from a decades-long effort by well-funded anti-gay hate groups who are determined to legitimize and spread their bigotry. Every few years, these obsessive Grinches regroup with a slightly different strategy, usually in a different state, where they rewrite their last bill and try again. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

They’re convinced this is a cultural war, and if it is, I’m ready to admit that it might not be one we can win. Sure, we can boycott Indiana, but then the people who got this law passed will just cry oppression even louder, and at the same time, we’ll end up hurting lots of good-hearted, open-minded Hoosiers who are as disgusted by the law as many of us out-of-staters are.

I’m tired of fighting back, and I’m tired of arguing. I’m tired of using my time, money and energy trying to force bigots to make me a wedding cake. We both think someone’s trying to infringe on our freedom, that the other side is out to oppress us. Again, I could argue this point, but I’m tired of it. They’re not going away. They’re determined to win.

So I say it’s time to let them.

They want the right to discriminate? They can have it.

You don’t want to cater my gay wedding? You don’t have to.

You don’t want to give me the family rate at your pool club because our family happens to have two dads? Fine with me.

You’re a jeweler who’s willing to turn down the sale of two diamond rings because the women buying them plan to give them to each other? Hey, it’s your business.

There’s just one catch.

You know those signs that businesses put up that say “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”? Well, from now on, if you choose to reserve that right, you have to hang one of those signs on your front door.

And you have to be specific.

Your God won’t let you sell me a cake? No problem. Just post this in your shop window:

Refuseservice1

That spares me the embarrassment of coming inside your business only to get turned away, and it saves you the unpleasantness of having to tell me to my face that you don’t think I’m morally upstanding enough to savor your rich buttercream frosting. It’s win-win.

In fact, why limit this to gays? How about a sign like this instead:

Refuseservice2

It’s customizable! You don’t want to serve African-Americans? Write your favorite slur in the appropriate spot. Jews make you uncomfortable? Fill in the blank. This one sign will work for whatever group of people you find distasteful. Muslims? Transgender people? The disabled? Did you see the sign? Buh-bye!

You don’t even have to claim religious oppression to do this. I don’t care what your reasons are, and I don’t care what you put in that blank, whether it’s my group or not. If I see that sign in your window, I’ll just quietly move on and give my business to someone else.

Because here’s what I think:

I think, if you’re really willing to own your right to discriminate, you won’t just lose the business of whatever minority you feel your bottom line can do without. You’ll lose everyone who sees discrimination for the divisive, un-American garbage that it is. You can’t spit on me and then act all nice and innocent with my straight friends, not anymore. You want the right to refuse someone service because of who they are? Put your money where your entrance door is, and see who’s still willing to walk through it.

A lot has changed since Barney’s Beanery took down their sign. (Even Barney’s, now under new ownership, seems to have made peace with the community.) Back then, there were no such thing as straight allies. Well, judging from my Facebook feed, my straight friends have my back, and I have the backs of all my friends, too, no matter which model in a Benetton ad they most resemble. Turn away any one of us you want, but only if you’re willing to run the risk of losing all of us.

You see, there’s one thing you have to remember, and that’s that if you have the right to discriminate, so do I… only my sign will look more like this:

nobigots

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You reserve the right to be… awesome. If you agree with my modest proposal, spread the word by sharing this post on your social networks with the buttons below.

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I may have mentioned I’m a dad, with kids to feed. I also have a great, funny story to tell of how I became a dad. So forgive this shameless plug for my book, Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad, which is available at non-discriminatory booksellers everywhere.

What I Didn’t Find Funny About “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”

Funny_Story_frontThere’s nothing like reading a book about depression to bring you down. It’s a shame, though, when that wasn’t the author’s point. Warning: this post contains vague spoilers about the book It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, so if you’re planning to read it, you can skip this for now. Just be warned that the book kind of spoils itself on the last page. If you’re still reading, I’ll explain…

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a very good book and a sensitive, illuminating portrayal of mental illness. The main character, a 15-year-old high school student under a ton of adolescent pressure, checks himself into a psychiatric ward after having suicidal thoughts. Over five days there, he meets some other troubled people, learns a lot about himself and finds the inspiration to go on with life. It’s even more emotionally involving when you know that it was based on the author’s own time spent in a similar institution and that he himself struggled with depression for many years. It’s been a bestseller, was adapted into a movie and has become a favorite of YA readers everywhere.

So what’s my problem? Well, on the very last page of the book, the main character, Craig, is running through a mental checklist of how to go on with his life after leaving the institution. It’s a beautiful monologue, until near the end, when he says this:

“Travel. Fly. Swim. Meet. Love. Dance. Win. Smile. Laugh. Hold. Walk. Skip. Okay, it’s gay, whatever, skip.”

Wait… what? “It’s gay”? Really? I’ve been emotionally involved in your struggle for 317 e-pages and you reward me with a crude sucker punch in the fourth-to-last paragraph? There’s no homophobia in the book until then. Other than a few fleeting moments involving a transgender resident, there are no LGBTQ characters at all. Just a lot of sensitively-portrayed, troubled individuals who were probably loosely based on the real residents Vizzini encountered in his hospital stay.

I love a good cry when I’m reading a book, and I’ll bet a lot of people cried at the ending to this one, but not me. I wanted to throw it across the room. I might’ve done it, too, if it wasn’t an ebook. No way I’m wrecking my iPhone over something like that. What infuriated me was that, while reading this character’s mental pep talk, I suddenly felt transported back to being a depressed 15-year-old myself, and this book that was written to inspire depressed 15-year-olds was actually mocking me.

Here’s a passage from my memoir “Mommy Man” in which I talk about what it was like growing up in a world rife with casual homophobia:

“As a gay kid, all I could do was suck it up, play straight, and play along. I never knew when my homophobia might be tested. I would go to see a perfectly fun movie like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, only to find out one of the running jokes was the two loveable protagonists calling each other “fag.” No one warned the public about it, no critics condemned it as hateful, no one even thought it was worth commenting on. It was just a joke, and judging by the reaction of the audience around me, a hilarious one. So I was forced to bust a gut, too — unless I wanted someone to think I was some kind of fag myself.

Everyone raved about the movie Lucas, in which Corey Haim played a sad, scrawny outcast who tried to win over the girl of his dreams by joining the high school football team. Sad, scrawny outcast? Sign me up! The reviews said it was sweet and heartwarming — and it was — but smack in the middle is a scene where Lucas accuses the bad guy of being a ‘fag’ in the locker room showers, supposedly a moment of stand-up-and-cheer comeuppance for a character we despise. Watching that scene with my friends, I died a little inside. (On the plus side, though, there were naked jocks.)”

Sure, the 80’s were full of casual awfulness. Casual racism, casual sexism, casual date rape, all wrapped up in a quirky New Wave neon package. As a 43-year-old man in 2015, I’m happy that those kinds of things are no longer acceptable and can no longer go unquestioned. (Read Dave Holmes’ excellent open letter to Kid Rock for more on this subject.) But It’s Kind of a Funny Story came out in 2007. Long after the message was out about how using “gay” as a pejorative is bad for gay kids, a writer wrote it, an editor declined to edit it out, a publisher published it and tons of gay kids undoubtedly read it, just like I did.

That’s what really upsets me. The book worked so hard to describe and sympathize with the suicidal impulses of its characters. We know that gay kids attempt suicide four times as much as straight kids. So why the gratuitous gay slur amid an otherwise uplifting monologue? As I read it, all I could picture was how it would feel to be a depressed gay teen who might be totally engrossed in the book and inspired by the ending… only to unexpectedly get the message, right in the final sentences, “Hold on, this isn’t about you. You’re weird.”

Tragically, Ned Vizzini lost his own battle with depression when he committed suicide in 2013 at the age of 32.  I’m not trying to tarnish his legacy or accuse him of homophobia. It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a wonderful book that has undoubtedly brought comfort to a lot of unhappy adolescents (and grownups for that matter). Its author was probably a great guy who thought he was making a harmless joke and just capturing the way teenagers really talk. I wish he were still here to respond — and to write more books.

For any depressed LGBTQ kids who might be reading this one, though, I hope they know that the message still applies to them, that they can overcome their thoughts of suicide, and most of all, I hope they bought the book in paperback, so if the mood strikes them, when they’re done, they can throw it across the room.

The New Rules of Gay

Are you gay? If so, congratulations. It’s a good time to be you. Any poll will tell you that the public is on your side. The Supreme Court is (mostly) looking out for you. Even the Pope thinks you’re pretty cool. Sure, there are still a few crusty old curmudgeons who think you’re causing tsunamis and corrupting children, but they’re quickly dying off and leaving behind more tolerant offspring in their wake. See? Even the Circle of Life is gay-friendly.

As for you straight people, or even the straight-curious, you might find this all a bit overwhelming, and understandably so. None of us were expecting the world to change this fast. Seriously, gay marriage in Utah? Who saw that coming?

Fear not. As a species, we must adapt to survive, but if we all keep a few things in mind, we can handle our new, post-homophobic reality. Herewith, I offer the New Rules of Gay:

“Gay” is a good word. “Fag” is bad.

newrules1, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManIf you’re one of those people who’s still saying, “That’s so gay!” when you think something is stupid or lame, it’s time to stop. Not so much because it’s offensive as because people are increasingly likely to misunderstand you completely. Gay is good now. When you say, “Those pants are so gay!”, people are going to think, “Oh, gay? Like Neil Patrick Harris? Cool! He must really like those pants! Maybe I’ll buy him a pair for his birthday.”

“Fag” is only going to get more offensive, though, because we gays need our N-word. We’ve all been called “faggot,” and it still stings, so now that we have a teeny bit of power, we’re out for blood. Don’t learn this the hard way, like Isaiah Washington did. GLAAD will so cut you.

Homosexuality is G-rated. No need to hide it from kids.

newrules3, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManWhen you were growing up, you might’ve had a “funny Uncle Tom,” or maybe your parents would sometimes mention, in a hushed tone, “Aunt Jane’s special friend.” That’s if your parents would let you around Uncle Tom or Aunt Jane at all.

Well, Aunt Jane’s special friend has a name, and it’s Aunt Sharon, thank you very much. They’re married, and unless you’re a bigot, you were at their wedding and your three year old daughter was spreading rose petals across the aisle for them. That’s how we roll these days.

We don’t shove people in a closet any more for the sake of children. Instead, we let the kids share fully in the joy of knowing that Uncle Tom isn’t going to die alone.

Treating gay people like they’re R or X-rated only reinforces the notion that there’s something shameful or secretive about being gay. If your kid sees two people of the same sex kissing, be honest, and say things like, “Those ladies are married” or “Those two dudes are each other’s husbands.” Of course, the most important word to use is “love.” What could be more G-rated than that?

Don’t worry, ‘phobes. You don’t have to equate being honest with conveying approval. Once you’ve told your kids the facts, you’re free to interject whatever religious or personal discomfort you may have with those facts, or just to pout discontentedly.

The old jokes don’t work anymore.

newrules9, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManYou know that caricature of the catty gay guy squealing for Streisand and shuddering at anything even remotely masculine? You’ve seen him in a million movies and TV shows, although they don’t always come right out and say he’s gay, because characters like that aren’t usually allowed by Hollywood to have a love life. The whole concept of guys like that is stereotypical, it’s outdated, it’s ludicrous, and you know what…?

I don’t hate it.

Honestly, there’s some truth to it. There’s a great moment in the documentary “The Celluloid Closet” where a bunch of film historians are discussing the stock Hollywood character commonly referred to as “the sissy”, and Harvey Fierstein guiltily admits, “I liked the sissy!” When he was a kid, he related to that character, and it made him happy to see himself reflected on screen.

So yes, there are guys like that, and they’re awesome. In fact, the reason that caricature began is that, not too many years ago, those were the most visible LGBTQ people, the bravest ones most willing to be themselves, in spite of society’s prejudices. I love those guys, and we all owe them a lot for making the world a better place for all of us. (The same goes for that old stereotype of the butch, no-nonsense lesbian. It’s hardly a complete representation of gay women, but there are ladies like that, and they are 100% awesome.)

That being said, these days, queeny gay guys and butch lesbians are just one part of a very diverse community, and most people know lots of gays and lesbians who don’t fit some convenient mold. So if you rely on easy jokes we’ve all heard before, don’t expect to get the same laughs you used to.

This means anyone creating gay characters has to try a lot harder and flesh them out into full, three-dimensional people. They can still like Streisand, but there had better be more to them than that… and if they don’t have a love interest, they should at least have an interest in finding one. Everybody I know does.

Don’t assume everyone is straight.

newrules6, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManIt’s hard enough coming out of the closet. Please don’t ask me the second you meet me if I have a wife or if I think Megan Fox is hot. Until you know someone well, be careful to be gender-inclusive. Instead of “Do you have a girlfriend?”, ask “Are you dating anyone?” Thankfully, with gay marriage, this is easier than ever, because even “Are you married?” is a gender-neutral question these days.

Yes, most people you meet will be straight, but no one’s gaydar is 100%, so instead of making assumptions, let people tell you who they are. Most people are happy to do so.

By the same token, don’t get offended if someone dances around your sexuality until they know you better. You don’t have to panic that you’re giving off a gay vibe, and you don’t have to pretend like you don’t know what they’re doing. There’s nothing wrong with responding directly, “Just so you know, I’m straight,” then having a good laugh about it. At that point, you’re free to dance around their sexuality and have even more fun.

It’s still rude to ask people their orientation.

newrules5, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManThis may seem contradictory. On the one hand, we’ve gotten to the point where a person’s sexual orientation is practically irrelevant, unless you happen to be sexually interested in them. On the other hand, it can still be an awkward subject to raise.

When you ask someone straight out if they’re gay, you’re assuming they’ve figured it out and are comfortable with it. Bias still exists, gay bashers still exist and, sadly, shame still exists, so for that reason, the closet will continue to exist. If you want to know if someone is playing for the same team as you, you’re going to have to wait for them to offer up the information, or at least provide you with some very distinct clues.

You can also check their Facebook, because anything someone posts there is fair game to ask them about, and sometimes you’ll find they’re a lot more of an open book than you thought.

When someone tells you their sexuality, take them at their word.

newrules2, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManYou know that famous man who’s married to a woman but no one can refer to their marriage without rolling their eyes? Or the friend of yours who you’re convinced would be much happier if they’d just start dating within their own gender? Sure, those people might be gay. As long as there’s a societal cost to being gay, there will be people who aren’t willing to pay it. There will also be others who, bless their hearts, are just hopelessly confused. But you can’t shame people into coming out of the closet, not when shame is what drove them in in the first place.

Mocking and rumor-mongering, fun though they may be, don’t do any favors to people who are surely suffering through their own private Hell. When someone tells you they’re straight, just play along. The best you can do for anyone is to try to make the world a safer place for people to be themselves. Then, just step back.

Besides, if they say they’re straight, there’s a good chance they actually are. Most people are straight, after all, and some straight guys are actually cool enough to realize how awesome showtunes are.

Of course, this only goes for people who are at least claiming to be gay-friendly. An A-list actor who did drag in a movie musical isn’t hurting us, so let’s leave him alone. On the other hand, if you spot Ralph Reed or Tony Perkins in a gay bar stuffing singles in some hunk’s Speedo, then call every tabloid in town. It’s always OK to out people for being hypocrites.

The closet isn’t for gays anymore. It’s for homophobes.

The closet, The closet is a good place to hide your homophobia, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManI went to a pretty diverse and fairly progressive high school, but I have a distinct memory of a fellow white kid using the “N-word” one day in the locker room. It just so happened there were no African-American students within earshot at that moment, so he felt comfortable assuming we were all as racist as he was. He was a little surprised when someone called him on it.

Multiply that by a thousand, and that’s about how many times I heard the “F-word” casually thrown around that way in high school. No one realized there was a gay kid in the room, and unlike with the racist kid, no one told him it was uncool to talk that way.

People’s sexuality isn’t as easy to spot as their race, so for a long time homophobes had free reign to gay-bash in virtually any crowd. Not anymore. Straight allies are coming out of the woodwork to shut down the haters, and more importantly, gay people are standing up for themselves, too.

LGBTQ people are done living in fear of being themselves. Now it’s homophobes who live in fear of exposing their hatred in the wrong crowd. If you hate gays, keep it to yourself, because you’re not going to get a lot of fist bumps anymore. You’re going to be confronted by a lot of out and proud gay people who aren’t afraid of you anymore, as well as a lot of straight allies who think you’re a major asshat.

And finally…

We know you used to be a homophobe, but we forgive you.

The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManI like to imagine that the racist kid from my high school is married to an African-American woman these days. Or maybe an African-American man. Times change, and so do people. Rarely has this change been as swift or as dramatic as on the issue of homosexuality. It was just a couple of years ago that a majority of Americans opposed same-sex marriage, and now, I can’t even name a state where it’s illegal because by the time this piece goes live, it might be outdated.

Sure, there’s still a part of me that remembers every homophobic thing anyone has ever said in my presence, but what matters more is that most of the people who said those things eventually woke the fuck up. Like Barack Obama, they evolved. And like Barack Obama, their evolution influenced other people to do the same.

We haven’t come this far by holding grudges against people who used to be homophobic. And if that’s you, you’re in luck. It doesn’t matter to anyone what you thought about gay people in 1989.

If you still think that way in 2014, on the other hand, then wake the fuck up. It’s time.

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Want to debate any of these points or suggest one of your own? Join the conversation in the comment section below, or better yet, share this post on your social networks using the buttons down there.

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The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManIf you like this post, I hope you’ll share it on your social networks. And if you super-like it, then I bet you’ll like my book, too. What book? This one!

My brand-new memoir “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad” tells all about my hilarious, heartwarming path to parenthood. Publishers Weekly called it “uproarious” and “touching”, and all kinds of people have been saying even nicer things about it on Amazon and GoodReads.

Buy the hardcover so people on the bus will know exactly what you’re laughing at, or buy the eBook to keep ‘em guessing. It’s your choice!

 

Video

My First Video: What to Expect When You’re Expecting… And Gay!

I was very honored to be asked to contribute to a recent surrogacy conference in Australia, held by the group Families Through Surrogacy, who also invited me to their San Francisco conference back in March. I’ll be speaking again at their upcoming event in Alexandria, Virginia on September 13, 2014, so if that’s in your neighborhood, come on down!

If you don’t live near any of those places, you’re still in luck, because I’m posting a video of my presentation here for you. This is my first attempt at producing a YouTube video, so don’t expect any technical wizardry, but if you’re looking for information on surrogacy or becoming a gay dad or just a glimpse of yours truly yakking away, then this is for you!

It’s OK If You Don’t Want Your Kids To Be Gay

bigglassesOne of the things I’m proudest of with this blog is the response I’ve received to my post How to Talk to Your Kids About Gay People, By a Gay Person. It’s received exactly the kind of praise (overwhelming) and condemnation (from a few random kooks) I would’ve hoped. I’ve also reached a number of people in the middle, which is where I would suspect most parents are these days, still trying to make sense of our increasingly gay-friendly world and where their kids fit into it.

I’d like to share one particularly intriguing comment I got on the post, which espouses a viewpoint I imagine is increasingly common among parents these days (edited version below; original can be found on the original post):

My husband and I are both tolerant, live and let live kind of people. I am a Christian, [but] I don’t think homosexuality is sinful. What is in the bible is taken way out of context.

 We have a two mom couple [in our neighborhood]. [My kids] never noticed, so we don’t bring it up. Then one day, my 5 year old said that a man can’t marry a man, that is just silly. My husband agreed with him. My husband and I talked later and I told him not to say that, because our son has girls with two moms in his class and he may tell them that it is silly or wrong. My husband said that, in truth, two men can’t legally get married and he doesn’t want the kids thinking it is OK. Well that is when I realized that we aren’t as cool with it as I thought.

I don’t think seeing gay couples will make our sons gay, but my husband seems to think that if we just say it is fine and OK and natural, then they will experiment with both genders. While I would love and accept my son no matter what and so would my husband, I don’t want him to be gay. So how do I tell them that it is OK for other people, but not OK for us. Is that ignorant of me. Am I way overthinking it. I don’t feel like these couples are going to make my children gay, but for some reason, I have this problem with telling them that it is perfectly OK and normal for them to like [other boys]. How should I explain it? I would be mortified if he told his five year old friends that their Moms were wrong or weird and made the little girls feel bad.

I’m going to start off by saying something you probably wouldn’t expect me to say:

It’s OK if you don’t want your kids to be gay.

I know, can you believe a gay man just said that? I’ll say it again:

It’s OK if you don’t want your kids to be gay.

You don’t have to feel guilty about it or be conflicted, and it shouldn’t be the cause of a fight with your spouse.

As parents, we have a lot of expectations and desires for our kids, and that’s only natural. Maybe you don’t want them to go into the military, because you’re afraid they’ll be in danger. You don’t want them to be poets, because you’re afraid they’ll always be broke. You don’t want them to be windmill technicians, because you don’t want them moving away to the Netherlands. All understandable.

On top of that, it’s natural to want your children to be people you can relate to. We want them to have the same political views as us. We want them to share our religion, our work ethic, our sense of humor.

So maybe there’s a part of you that wants your kid to share the same sexual orientation as you. It will certainly make your life easier. It’s hard enough teaching your kids about the birds and the bees, without also having to explain the bees and the bees or the birds and the birds. Fair enough.

It may even make your kid’s life easier if they’re straight, because he or she won’t have to deal with homophobia and the difficulty gay people face when trying to have a family. Maybe that’s why you don’t want your kid to be gay, and that’s OK, too.

It doesn’t make you a bad parent, it doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t even necessarily make you a homophobe.

Here’s the catch, though: You have to be willing to accept your kids even if they’re not what you wanted them to be.

He wasn't what they expected, but these hippies loved their Republican son.

He wasn’t what they expected, but these hippies loved their Republican son.

You would still love your daughter if she joined the military or your son if he became a poet, and if either of them became a windmill technician, you’d be a little sad, but you’d buy a Dutch phrase book and move on with life. It’s the same if your kid ends up being gay, so prepare yourself for that now. Ideally, you may not want it to happen, but it could happen.

And I’m sorry, but there’s no way to convey the notion of “It’s OK for them but not for us” without it coming across as hypocritical or dishonest. Your kid is looking at how you treat your neighbors not just to see how he should treat his neighbors, but to see how you might treat him as well.

What I’m hearing in your comment sounds to me like, “I want to teach my son to be nice to people who are different from us, because I’m terrified those people might learn how we really feel.” You can’t have it both ways. If you’d accept a stranger for being who they are, you can’t discourage it in your own child.

Kids have a tendency of defying their parents’ expectations. Ultimately, as a parent, you should be striving to make your kids happy, and nothing will make them happier than if they’re allowed to be themselves and to know that they have the unconditional love of their parents to support them.

You might really, really prefer that your kid be straight, and maybe you’ll get your wish. But maybe not. And it’s how you handle the “maybe not” that demonstrates what kind of parent you are.

Here’s the other catch: you can’t wait until your kids grow up to tell them you’re OK with who they are. You have to plant the seeds of acceptance before they even figure themselves out.

If your son tells you he wants to be a professional wrestler when he grows up, you can say you’d be very worried that he’d get hurt, but the bigger point you should make is that you’d always root for him.

If your daughter tells you she wants to be a roller disco queen, you can gently suggest that she might need a backup career plan, but only after you tell her to get down with her bad self.

And if your kids say they want to marry someone of the same sex someday, you might be inclined to share what your religion says about homosexuality, but your focus should really be on how proud you’ll be to walk them down the aisle.

Five-year-olds don’t usually have much sense of where they’ll be in 20 years. If we could really trust the predictions preschoolers make, the world would have a lot more firemen and princesses in it. But if there’s one thing kids that age are very good at, it’s testing their parents. When they make assertions about their identity, it’s a safe bet that they’re studying your reaction very closely.

Young adults have been known to experiment with homosexuality if they feel it’ll piss off their parents. But no one has actually ever become gay just because their parents told them they’d be cool with it. I promise.

As for the fact that marriage still isn’t legal wherever you happen to live, it’s only a matter of years if not months before it will be. Marriage equality is almost a certainty by the time your five-year-old reaches adulthood, so don’t cling to the technicality while it lasts.

If you want to know how to discuss the lesbian parents in your neighborhood with your kids, you can show them your acceptance without turning it into a Bi g Discussion on homosexuality. Just say, “Those women are in love, the same way I love your daddy. Someday, you’ll marry the person you love, and I can’t wait to dance at your wedding.”

Then let them go back to playing soccer.

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Want more of me? Read my book! Publishers Weekly calls it “uproarious”. The Good Men Project says it’s “hilarious”. Decide who’s right. Buy it here! Or here! Or read more about it here!

5 Myths About Gay Parents I’d Like to Wipe Out Forever

FamilySelfieIf there’s one point I’ve tried to make over and over on this blog, it’s that being a gay dad is awesome. People are almost uniformly nice and welcoming. Our kids feel like rock stars. Life is great.

Every once in a while, though, I hear someone make an offhand remark about LGBTQ parents that makes me cringe. And it’s not always the usual culprits. Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemies, and it’s gay people themselves (usually childless ones) who make unfair generalizations about those of us who do have kids.

So, in honor of Mombian’s 9th annual Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day (you can see my post from last year here), I want to address some sentiments I’ve encountered as a gay dad, from both gay and straight people, which I find incredibly wrong-headed and which I’d like to dispel once and for all.

2014familyday403MYTH #1: Gay parenting is just some hip new trend.

I’ve heard this remark a few times, often from older gay men rolling their eyes in disdain. “Suddenly, everyone’s having kids! It’s like you can’t be seen in Park Slope without one!”

Well, maybe the reason so many gay people are having kids these days isn’t that it’s trendy. It’s that for pretty much the first time ever, we can. As I say in my book, “Mommy Man”, I never thought when I was growing up that I’d be able to have kids at all. So when I realized I could, you’re damn right I made it happen, and clearly, I’m not alone.

It’s only in the last few years that the legal, social, biological and financial barriers keeping LGBTQ people from having kids have begun to come down. At the same time, the legalization of same-sex marriage has made more LGBTQ people comfortable with the thought of having families, because we know our kids will be protected and our families will be recognized for what they are.

So sure, Park Slope might be crawling with gaybies, but if you’re thinking this will blow over and all the gay parents are someday going to trade their kids in for pet rocks or whatever the next hot fad is, you’re missing the point.

MYTH #2: There’s something weird about the way gay people have kids.

As someone whose kids were born through surrogacy, I’m especially used to hearing this misconception, because in vitro fertilization and surrogacy are things many people still don’t quite understand. You’re free to make your own choices as to how you want to have kids, of course, but as for what went into making my kids, all you really need to know is that the #1 ingredient was love.

My husband and I conceived with the help of his sister, who generously donated her eggs for us. It seems like every time I say this, somebody brings up the issue of incest. Weren’t we worried that mixing genetic material from a brother and sister would create some kind of demonic freakbaby?

Well, yes we were worried about that, which is why WE NEVER EVEN CONSIDERED IT. It seems so obvious to me, but I’m starting to wonder whether I should change the title of my book to “We Used My Sperm” just to make sure there’s no confusion on anyone’s part.

What’s really startling about this, though, is that anyone believes for even a moment that we would’ve broken the ultimate genetic taboo just to have kids. As if, because we didn’t do things the “traditional way”, all sense of propriety and safety went out the window.

Sure, LGBTQ people have kids through a variety of methods, but when you break them down, they’re all pretty much the same. Egg, sperm, uterus. It’s just a matter of who those parts belong to that varies. When we have kids, there are no guarantees, and there’s often heartbreak. But nature is pretty consistent and the goal is always the same, that one day a kid will go home with a parent or two who loves them.

Does Prada make one of these?

Does Prada make one of these?

MYTH #3: Gay parents treat children as accessories.

I would never believe anyone thought this if I hadn’t heard actual people say it. But I have. There are people who think gays only want kids because they make good “accessories”.

I don’t know what gay parents these people know, but the ones I’ve encountered are every bit as loving, nurturing and dedicated as any other parents. They have to be, or they never would’ve become parents in the first place.

Having a family when you’re LGBTQ is hard. No matter what path you choose – adoption, surrogacy, fostering — it takes an enormous amount of time, expense and every ounce of emotion you have to get to the point where there’s a child in your care. I can’t imagine anyone actually becoming a gay parent if they’re not in it for the right reasons.

The suggestion that this “accessory” mentality exists comes directly from a stereotype – a viciously homophobic one at that – of gay men as shallow and selfish. What’s more offensive than to suggest that LGBTQ people would consider a human child to be on par with a Gucci handbag? (And by the way, next to the cost of parenthood, those handbags are a steal.)

If all you want is an accessory, you’re better off choosing one that won’t throw up on you or scream-sing “Let It Go” at your feet every time you pick up the goddamn phone for five freaking seconds.

As a gay dad, the only accessory I actually have is called a Diaper Dude, and I don’t wear it over my shoulder everywhere I go because I’m expecting to be hounded by paparazzi outside of Gymboree. I carry it because it contains spare underpants in case my kids shit themselves when we’re away from home.

Glamorous, right?

MYTH #4: Surrogacy is inherently narcissistic.

A lot of people look down on the notion of surrogacy as a needlessly complicated and expensive way to have kids, when there are so many kids out there who need good homes. The implication was that people only choose surrogacy because they want to look into their kid’s eyes and see themselves reflected back.

Well, let me make one thing very clear: as a parent, I spend a lot less time gazing lovingly into my children’s eyes than staring disgustedly at their poopy buttholes. And trust me, when I’m wiping up their feces, I’m not looking for any resemblance.

Yes, for my husband and me, having kids who share some of our genes is nice. We get to play that, “Which one of you do they look like?” game, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting that connection with a child. But outside of that comes the other 99.999% of parenting, which is the same no matter where your kids came from.

Genetics isn’t the only reason to choose surrogacy. I’ve written a post on 6 of the others, but the main one is that legally, no path to parenthood gives gay people nearly as many rights as surrogacy does. Adoptions fall through, and foster kids get taken away, but my kids belonged to my husband and me from the moment of conception. They were ours if something tragic happened or if they ended up with special needs or funny-looking noses. We took the same chances every parent does, and ultimately, they resemble themselves a lot more than they do either of us.

As for all those needy kids, it may sound harsh, but not everyone is equipped to take in a special needs kid or to deal with the legal and emotional complications of fostering. Nobody tells straight people that they shouldn’t be having kids of their own, so it’s best not to judge how people had their family. “Your family is beautiful” is a compliment that works for any family, so go with that instead.

MYTH #5: Children of gay parents are forced into an unfair legal limbo.

Let me be very clear: I would never have had children with a surrogate if I thought my legal rights would be in question. Yet the myth still exists that surrogates can for custody if they feel like it. I even encountered this mistaken belief in my radio interview last week.

It’s not true.

California, where my kids were born, is one of the most progressive states in recognizing gay parental rights. Both my partner and I are listed as parents on their birth certificates, and as I said, we had full legal rights to them from the moment of conception. California recognized the legality of our surrogacy contract, and we had no fears that the surrogate would ever be granted any parenting rights. Had that been a legitimate concern, we would never have taken the risk.

Admittedly, this is one myth I can’t wholly dismiss. Gay parents are all over the country, but statutes concerning surrogacy, adoption and foster parenting vary from state to state. As a result, some gay parents are left to take some uncomfortable chances in having children. In some places, same-sex couples are prohibited from adopting altogether, and in others, gay parents have to endure protracted and expensive second parent adoptions, even when they’re legally married.

If that upsets you, don’t hold it against gay parents, who don’t deserve to be discriminated against just because they happen to live in, say, North Carolina.  Just realize that the government is behind the times and needs to catch up to the realities of our modern family era.

I just wish I were more optimistic that those changes were coming, when some gay people themselves still hold some very backward ideas about gay parents.

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Want to learn more about the realities of gay parents – and specifically, of my family? Then read my book, “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad,” which is now available wherever you like to buy books, and which Publisher’s Weekly calls “Uproarious.”

Not convinced? Head over to Amazon or GoodReads to read the reviews, and download the sample chapter to check it out.

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If you want to read one really awesome review of “Mommy Man”, check out this one written by Mombian (a/k/a Dana Rudolph) herself.